By Danny Cox

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci roamed the sidelines for the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions for years in the late ’90s and into the middle part of the new century, so he’s witnessed a lot of change in America’s most popular sports league. He’s seen coaches come and go, players out with injury, others benched, and teams shock the world with their great or poor play. This week on Thursday Night Football, there are teams heading in opposite directions this season but both trying to accomplish that goal of winning a championship. Mariucci took some time to speak on that game and some of the other things happening around the league with injuries, releases, and more.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals – NFL Network, Nov. 5 at 8:25p ET

Is this the right time for the Browns to switch to Johnny Manziel?

Steve Mariucci: “They do need to see what Johnny Manziel can do. He’s played a bit already here and there, but it’s important for this organization to see what he can do with a full week of preparation. They’ll be playing divisional teams for the next four games, and there’s no better task than this week to see how Manziel stacks up. Josh McCown has been doing well and playing fine, but he’s banged up with the ribs and the shoulder. This is as good a time as any to see what they have in Manziel. Seeing him prepare and practice for a full week will help and if he’s not doing well, there could be a change back to McCown…but the Browns need to see what they have.”

With the Broncos and Patriots also undefeated like the Bengals, who do you feel will be the first to fall?

SM: “Looking at the schedules, the Patriots and Broncos are 7-0 and will likely stay undefeated until Week 12 when they meet in Denver. Both will be 10-0 at the time and that’s going to be a big one to say the least. The Bengals, I believe will beat the Browns on Thursday and then the Texans at home. The tough one will be after that when they go to Arizona. The Cardinals are a tough team with a good defense and they match up with the Bengals well. Cincinnati is good enough to beat anyone, but that will be their toughest test to date. Denver and Cincinnati are then meeting in Week 16 and that game could be a battle to see who gets the best seed or a possible bye.”

The Browns seem to start games out really hot (against the Broncos, Cardinals, etc.) and then just disappear; what is their biggest problem?

SM: “Consistency. Continuity throughout the game. As you said, they show signs of competitiveness and then show signs of a team in rebuilding mode. They’re a team that is trying to get better and back into the playoff race, but there are many problems. They can’t stop the run consistently and their defense is on the field way too much.

Quarterback health is also an issue. The Browns are a team trying to make it in a division with much better teams right now. Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is doing a great job right now, but it’s hard for any team to juggle quarterbacks. Any team in the league would have difficulty with that.”

What is the main key, other than Andy Dalton, to the Bengals’ success so far this season?

SM: “They’ve been very lucky by staying healthy. Sometimes, that’s the luck of the draw. San Diego had 12 guys…12…leave the field with injuries in the last game. Cincinnati has been very lucky with injuries and Dalton is playing well because all of his weapons are healthy. He has Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill running well. He has great targets in A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones who are playing well.

The defense is playing great and sacking quarterbacks. You get banged up and play with a lot of back-ups and any team is automatically going to see quality go down a little. Those guys haven’t been on the field as much in the season or playing together lately and it’s hard to adjust.

If Cincinnati can stay healthy, they can stay there at the top and play with anyone in the league.”

Is Browns head coach Mike Pettine on the hot seat yet?

SM: “I hope not. He has the Browns going in the right direction. Ken Whisenhunt is gone in just his second year with the Titans. They just let him go…did you see that? Quarterbacks are being benched, Colin Kaepernick is out, coaches are being fired. There is very little patience anymore for growth and development in the NFL. Everyone wants instant success with their product and that’s not easy to accomplish in the NFL. I really hope that Pettine can stay around to grow with the young coaches he has there in Cleveland and with a team that is building with putting the right pieces in place.”

Watch Thursday Night Football as Cleveland takes on Cincinnati only on NFL Network

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